FOX 35 EXCLUSIVE: Golden Corral emerges from bankruptcy, hires nearly 1,700

The country’s largest Golden Corral franchisee has emerged from bankruptcy. With that, nearly 1,700 jobs have been saved at a time when a lot of people are still out of work.

"It’s crazy. March 16th, we closed all our restaurants down and didn’t know what was going on or how long it would last," said Eric Holm, a self-made millionaire who owned 33 Golden Corral locations in Florida and Georgia.

But last year, they all closed after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Had no warning. I just drove over here one day. It was closed," said Gary Langston, who lives in Apopka.

By October, only five had reopened and Holm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"Chapter 11 let us reorganize our finances, gave us some breathing room which we needed.

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On Thursday, Holm officially emerged from bankruptcy and is getting ready to reopen his 22nd Golden Corral location. Eleven of the original 33 will remain permanently closed. More than 1,600 people have gotten their jobs back.

"That’s our proudest moment is being able to employ all these folks and they wanted to come back to work," said Holm.

He hopes to increase that to 2,000 total employees when all is said and done.

At the beginning of the pandemic, people thought that buffets might be dead, but clearly business is back. Savings and PPP money allowed Holm to spruce up the 22 locations with fresh paint, landscaping, furniture, and glove stations.

Holm said it’s die-hard fans like Gary Langston who have helped keep the lights on.

"When they started opening back up, we would drive to Lakeland one day because they opened first. We’d drive to Eustis another day. We’d go to Villages some days. Wherever one was open, that’s where we went," said Langston.

"It was a dark period of time so we had to get out of the darkness and make our own light," said Holm.

A golden light, if you will.

Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest news.